Sportsnight #31: 1988, Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards, Calgary Winter Olympics

by Charlie_East_West on January 29, 2014

Good morning, and welcome to an early edition of Sportsnight. As we look forward to the start of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, today’s action comes from the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada and we witness British ski jumper Eddie Edwards getting his 15 minutes of fame.

Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, was a British skier who in 1988 became the first competitor to represent Great Britain in Olympic ski jumping. He ended up finishing last in the 70m and 90m events, and became famous as another example of a plucky underdog or heroic failure in British Sport.

We British love a plucky underdog. Our sporting national treasures are packed full of these quirky individuals, such as – Frank Bruno, Paul Gascoigne, Jimmy White, Tim Henman and of course Eddie Edwards – individuals who were either nearly men or never even near to it.

Eddie Edwards however, took the role of plucky underdog to a new level. Edwards was a decent downhill skier and he narrowly missed out on the GB team for Downhill skiing event at the 1984 Games. To improve his chances to qualify for Calgary in 1988, he moved to Lake Placid in the US to train and enter races of a higher standard. However, he soon found himself short on funds. To realise his Olympic dream, he decided to switch to ski jumping at it presented an easier qualification because there was no other competing British ski jumpers.

Of course, Edwards finished last in Calgary, 50 metres behind the gold medalist Matti Nyaken, but he didn’t crash. That was a victory in itself. His lack of success and the fact that his glasses steamed up during his jump even made him a short term global superstar. He arrived back at Heathrow to find a crowd of 10,000 fans, a 25-strong police escort and a new life of private jets, personal appearances, £10,000-an-hour fees and appearances on Wogan and the Johnny Carson Show. The media started calling him a ski dropper rather than a ski jumper. Edwards even recorded a terrible pop song called Fly Eddie Fly. It dropped even faster than one of his ski jumps. Even Ronald Reagan, then U.S. President, held up a White House briefing to watch him on TV, telling his aides: “You’ve gotta watch this guy.

In response to Edwards, in 1990, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to become a killjoy. They implemented what became known as the Eddie the Eagle Rule, which required Olympic qualifiers to compete in international events and place in the top 30 percent or the top 50 competitors. Edwards consequently failed to qualify for the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France.

But, Eddie The Eagle Edwards will always have his moment in the snow. In 1988, he become a sporting example of The Great British Underdog.

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